Aurora Shooting Dispatch Recording Analysis

An examination of the dispatch recording for the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO theater mass shooting event.


Just past the three minute mark the dispatcher again reports that the calls are coming in for the perpetrator "still shooting." If that was the case, is it possible that the officers on scene could be within the theater complex and NOT be hearing the shots? Consider the noise of a panicked crowd and the physical structure of the theaters themselves. It IS possible to be close but not hear what's going on.

Just past the three minutes mark "216" calls out to get the dispatcher's attention and his voice obviously sounds excited/stressed. Before he can send his communications traffic another unit calls for an ambulance for another victim. Such confusion in communications is unavoidable and we should make sure our officers are aware of it. In such situations, pandemonium will rule the day, but WE must roll with it, improvise, adapt and overcome.

At the 3:45 mark you can hear the alarms from inside the complex in the background of the officer's communication and it's the first mention of "gas" being sprayed or deployed inside the theater (communicated by "316").

At about the 4:20 mark you can hear "316" calling for more officers inside theater 9 immediately followed by an officer detailing the perimeter coverage for the back and south sides. Think about that and recognize that your response to any given scene will be as fast, or faster than, the deployment of your perimeter. This is unavoidable. We cannot delay immediate response to the scene to set up the perimeter. We cannot ignore the need for perimeter to send everyone to the immediate scene. On scene commanders/responding officers have to balance the responding manpower as best they can under the given circumstances. This will always be critiqued after the fact but no one should criticize the decisions made under such conditions on the scene.

At the 4:30 mark an officer calls out with "people running out of the theater that are shot." As much as we train to make entry and neutralize an active shooter, how many training programs focus on the mass exodus of the injured. We should have protocols in place to delineate rally points, triage areas and procedures, and coordinated Emergency Medical Services placement. Additionally, given the amount of time we're going to spend on the scene after the immediate threat has been neutralized, it would be beneficial for more (if not all) officers to receive up-graded first-aid training. Basic trauma care should be the minimum; EMT-B if time and budgets permit.

At the 4:47 mark the first call goes out asking if their are gas masks available. One Chief of Police who heard this recording paid particular attention to this request. His agency does have gas masks and they are typically kept in the armory for distribution during civil unrest events. As was demonstrated in THIS event, if the gas masks are not immediately available to the officers, you might as well not have them at all. But, that means training and maintenance for those gas masks as well.

At about the 5:05 mark, sounding relatively calm, Lincoln-25 calls out the shooter's location as Theater 9, implying that Lincoln-25 isn't IN Theater 9 yet, and he identifies the smell as "OC" (pepper spray - a smell we should all be familiar with). Consider that implication: The OC "bomb" that was set off inside Theater 9 is affecting response and conditions outside Theater 9. The scene very obviously just got a whole lot bigger than the shootings occurring inside a single theater.

At about the 5:40 mark, Cruiser 26 asks about a staging area for Emergency Medical Services. He sounds calm, as if he asking a common every day question.

Just past the six minute mark Lincoln-25 delineates the West Parking Lot as the staging area for Rescue/EMS and requests "at least three or four ambulances." He still sounds relatively calm and is obviously assessing the situation as it develops. Consider how many ambulances your area has available and how fast they can get to any given area how fast. At Virginia Tech there were less than six ambulances available.

At the 6:20 mark a marked cruiser is requested to the back of the theater for a "suspect in a gas mask."

At the 6:50 mark, as units are calling out various locations of victims and their injuries, one officer calls to "hold the air" so that clarification can be made with the units to the rear of the theater with the suspect.

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